Carlitos is in my class at school and is 4.5, while his sister Carlita is about 1.5 yrs old. In the afternoons I often see Carlitos stop what he is doing when his sister comes outside with her missionary, and run over to take her hand and walk around with her. I was asking a missionary about this and she told me for the first month that they were here they were inseparable. He would NOT leave her side, and she would follow him around like a little duckling. She said I should have seen the way he, at 4.5 years old, would carry her around and feed her. A 1.5 yr old baby who was only a little smaller than he was.
Turns out before arriving, he was completely responsible for her well being and survival. He had the full responsibility of caring for her, and feeding her, and making sure she was growing up with love. The missionary told me, that after about a month he started to realize that she was being well cared for by the missionaries, and that he didn’t need to take on that responsibility. She said it was like one day a weight had just been lifted from his shoulders and he could play and run around and be a little kid. Though he still runs to her, and loves her, and sometimes cares for her on the playground, he is now able to be a little kid. But what a showcasing of love and the natural instincts of siblings to take care of each other that a 4.5 year old would sacrifice everything to care for his little sister.
Rolando is one of the first students in our college scholarship program. Only 1% of kids like Rolando will make it to college. There are no statistics on children like him who complete their degree (because so few kids actually do). More background to his story below.
Text from Rolando’s speech at our event
“Good evening, my name is Rolando. I live in Ecuador and since I was a baby I lived with my Grandmother. She had a little store and worked in the countryside to pay for me to go to school. She always told me I had to stay in school and continue studying. She said she wanted me to be a good person and find a good job. I had everything I needed when I was with my grandmother.
When I finished elementary school, my grandmother died. After she died I met my father for the first time, but he died two days after I met him. This was a hard time for me. I was only eleven years old.
For the next three years I worked so I could pay for school. But books were so expensive that I had to stop school and work so I could pay for food and a room.
When I was 18, I met my oldest brother for the first time. He lived his entire life at the mission and brought me there. I lived in the boys program and finished high school.
Since my grandmother died, my dream was to go to university, because this was her dream and she sacrificed everything so I could study. She always believed in me. She paid for me to go to school even though she had never been to school herself.
I also want to keep studying, because I have no other option. If I do not study, I will never be able to find stable work. I will be a slave for the rest of my life. The people who do not have university degrees can not always find work. The work they do find is very hard, some times for a few days, some times a few months. The pay is very bad. Sometimes they do not pay you at all. Almost everyone I know lives this type of life and it is not good.
Now my grandmother’s dream is becoming a reality, not because of me, but because all of you, from your generosity. For this I want to say thank you to all of you. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, the best opportunity of my life. Thank you.”
Most of you may not fully appreciate what this education means for Rolando and others in his situation. When Rolando said if he did not study, he “would be a slave for the rest of his life,” I told him this would be strong language, especially coming from a young black man to a mostly white audience. He replied right back to me that it was true – he lived that life as a child for six years after his grandmother died, trying to eke out a living as a day laborer (child labor is now illegal in Ecuador). As one who has spent time in Ecuador, I admit that his language is appropriate.
Having Rolando present at our first event was a great honor. Although I have known him for some time, I never knew his personal story, and I was shocked when I heard the full details of his painful childhood. I met Rolando when he first came to the mission when he was 17. We bonded over basketball, which he loved and was the only sport I could play since I was terrible at soccer. Over the last eight years I have come to know Rolando quite well and his determination and perseverance was the inspiration for our college scholarship program.
Graduating from high school near the top of his class, elected president of the student body, Rolando had no real future after high school.
When I visited a few years ago he was working three jobs. It took me several conversations over two years to realize that these jobs were not permanent, which meant when they ended sporadically and his chance at a stable income was virtually zero.
I don’t think I realized Rolando’s potential to work hard or his intelligence. The missionaries asked me to help him study after years of seeing him in limbo after high school. It seemed very unjust that someone so intelligent and determined was refused an education that could lift him out of poverty forever, an education which is “free” for those who can pass the entrance exams.
Rolando applied to the top school and the country, which meant he and 3000 others would take a test to qualify for 280 spots for a six-month university pre-course program. The top 75 students would then enter the university business program, which had no tuition. For those with families living in the city, only the wealthier could afford to not work for so long (and had private school educations). For Rolando, no family and no money meant we had to give him a place to live and money for food, bus fare, and any course costs. Rolando made it as one of the 75 top students, which due to the difficulty is down to 30 students. He is now in his third year of a 5-year program.
We currently have five young people in our college scholarship program and would like to see this number increase to 40-50 students as we get the funding. The way we see it, this is the best way to break the cycle of poverty and we think other NGOs and governments in developing countries will dedicate more resources to university and vocational education programs in the future. We hope to increase this program as our charity grows in the next few years to break more children out of poverty. We are honored to have Rolando part of our inaugural class and thank you for making this possible.
Over the last couple of months we have had a strong desire to organize an event to engage with our current community of supporters as well as reach out and introduce our charity to others. Well that day is finally on the horizon…the New York horizon to be exact.
More to come in terms of details but for now please save the date and plan to join us on the evening of Friday, October 2nd at the New York Bar Association (44th between 5th & 6th Ave).
We hope you are staying cool in the recent hot weather. Weather like this always reminds me of the comforts I can take for granted (like air conditioning for one).
In this month’s update we wanted to share a video we created during one of our visits to the mission that show’s the housing improvements that we were able to assist with in the boys program. To us it may not seem like much, but for them it makes a world of difference in their lives:
We have a new volunteer at the mission who has taken time out of her life to serve the children in Ecuador. Hailey Wesselman, a recent graduate from Franciscan University wrote the following on the start of her work:
“It has been a whirlwind of a first week here in Ecuador. I showed up at the Guayaquil airport early Wednesday morning at about 1 in the morning, then had to take a 2.5 hour ride to get to the mission. By the time it was all said and done, it was about 4 AM when we arrived at the mission. We, meaning my volunteering companion ,Phil, and I, met Fatima, who already has a direct ticket to heaven, and she helped us to our rooms even though my Spanish suffered as I could barely even keep my eyes open.
There is a little 2-year old boy hear whose name is Jean Carlo. He makes my day every time I get to see him. When he sees me, he runs to me and has the biggest smile on his face. His story is very heartbreaking though, and I’m so blessed to get to know him in the short time that I’m here. He and his older brother were found in the streets on Tuesday and they were eating garbage. Fatima told me that they looked so sad when they found them, but now they have been checked out by the doctors, gotten haircuts and have been smiling ever since. He has the biggest heart and the biggest smile I have ever seen.
On Thursday, we started working in the school right across the street from the mission. Phil and I are both working in 1st grade, but different classrooms and professors. There’s another little boy in the class whose name is Nicolas, who loves to dance when music is playing at lunch. He’s super smart and outgoing; he loves to help and pay attention when la profe (the teacher) is instructing the class. The girls in the class always want me to look at their pictures they colored or hold my hand. They are so much fun!
Yesterday and today, we went to the beach about 5 minutes by driving from the mission. A popular game has been when Phil and I open our legs in the water and the kids swim through. We played that game for almost an hour. It truly is the small things in life that make a difference.”
We are so grateful for helpers like Hailey for volunteering their time to the children and for all of our supporters who have given these children a chance for a life with more smiles.
The Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School Spanish Class in Summit, NJ recently had a fundraiser organized by their teacher Tim Margiotta. The Spanish classes were given sponsor sheets and invited to ask friends, family, and neighbors to participate in theMission Santa Maria Challenge and donate to help the students in Ecuador. This was the second year students from the Summit Middle School participated in this annual fundraiser. Last year the students raised over $3,000 for the mission which was an amazing effort. This year Tim challenged his students even further and they well surpassed expectations.
Combined the students raised over $9,000!
The generosity and enthusiasm of these young people will once again help us expand our grade school and university scholarship programs in Ecuador. Thank you to everyone involved in these fundraising efforts!
I recently spent two weeks in Ecuador for my annual visit to the mission. As I reflect on my trip, I experience an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all of you who support our work to help these children.
Apart from checking in on our projects, being at the mission for that short time allowed me to see the kids we help in their daily lives. The children wake up early everyday (at 5am!) to get ready for school, do their daily chores, and eat before classes started. Since our largest project at Mission Santa Maria is the education of these children, I was so excited to see the children in school. I couldn’t resist thinking, “we made this possible!” To see our work in action was a great feeling.
One day we took the smallest 30 children at the mission home to the movies. This entails a 90 minute bus ride, followed by a taxi ride to the shopping mall with the only movie theater in the state. These children come from horrible family situations, many from abusive families. To see the joy and excitement they all experienced was invigorating. For many of the kids, this was their first time to a movie theater. Of course, taking 30 children back and forth to the city was like herding a group of kittens through a journey to the end of the earth, so I was grateful that some of the missionaries came with us.
On the bus ride home, Catiuska, a small 5-year-old girl sat next to me. It was past the children’s normal bedtimes. I asked her if she enjoyed the movies and she smiled and said: “Yes. And I am really happy that I have a bed because I didn’t always have one.” Needless to say that left me speechless, but was a good reminder of the poverty of many of these children.
We will share more stories of the children in the coming months and hope that you will be able to get a sense of the difference you make in the lives of these children through our photos and videos. We also hope that you might consider making a visit with us on one of our future trips to see first hand the incredible effect your generosity has on the lives of these children.
On behalf of the missionaries, the children, the teachers and the staff at Mission Santa Maria, I am grateful to each of you.
Ali is volunteering as a nurse at the mission and recently shared with us the following:
The other day we had six siblings come. They were living under a patio on a couple mattresses with garbage everywhere. They were found alone because their dad is in jail and their mom had left to try and sell shoes to get them some money. When they arrived they were lice-ridden, scared, and very shy. It’s only been two weeks, and the one-year-old is happy to be held by anyone, the three-year-old knows everyone’s names, the little girls are all smiling and want to play non stop, and the fourteen-year-old (who has received the brunt of the family baggage I believe) routinely flashes me the “I love you” sign in sign language and loves joking around. Anyway, their situation and transformation has been a huge testament to me of the beauty and necessity of this place in a world that is broken for a million reasons.
What we need in order to be our true selves is so simple: food, clothes, security, and love. The orphanage (which is more like a giant foster care) provides all of this and more to kids who desperately need it.
I’m really honored to play my little part here. I’ve done a lot of first aid stuff -the kids have a million tiny scratches that absolutely must have my attention, which is sometimes annoying, but mostly funny because they are so cute! There have been some more complicated medical cases, such as a girl with new onset epilepsia, and another girl with an autoimmune, nervous system disorder that the doctor is still trying to figure out. I’m spending a lot of time helping the special ed kids. Other than that, I’m teaching English classes to the kids and some missionaries, helping with homework, and just playing around. I got to be a Godmother to one of the girls here named Lily, and that meant a lot to both of us.
Throughout my time here, this statement from God in the Old Testament has come into my head multiple times, and brought me to think about what my response to it looks like:
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” -Ez 22:30
There are people standing in the gap here, and the fruit of it is beautiful to see.
P.S. The government does help here, but definitely not enough! A good portion of this organization is run by donations, a lot of which are from the US, which makes me really proud of my country. The money goes to supplies for the kids, random things the mission needs (such as washer and dryers last May…thank GOD for those – I am not a fan of washing clothes by hand and it takes a ton of time considering the amount of kids). Also the money goes to helping the school and giving scholarships. Education is huge for these kids in order to get them out of the cycle of poverty. All the donations go 100% to the mission and are tax deductible. check out the website for more info http://www.missionsantamaria.com/